With tens of millions of Americans piling into cars and boarding planes over a quick five-day travel period, Thanksgiving is consistently one of the most hectic times for travel, and this year will be no different.
About 750,000 South Carolinians are expected to travel over the Thanksgiving holiday this year, a 3 percent increase compared to last year, according to AAA Carolinas.
The vast majority — about 90 percent — will travel by car during the holiday travel period, which starts Wednesday and runs through Sunday. The best day to be on the road will be Thanksgiving Day, AAA found.
According to a new analysis this year from Google Maps, most cities see the worst traffic between about 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Wednesday. On Thanksgiving, traffic peaks around noon, but, in the very early morning before 6 a.m., there is usually hardly any traffic at all.
On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, which is the worst day for holiday traffic, the most cars are on the roads between about noon and 6 p.m.
Thanksgiving traffic has been exacerbated not just by year-over-year increases in the number of travelers but also by population growth in major metro areas, Trevor Reed, a transportation analyst at the analytics firm INRIX, said in a statement on this year's travel projections.
Nationwide, about 55 million people are expected to travel 50 miles or more over the five-day travel period, INRIX found. More than 49 million of those people will go by car.
The fuel-tracking site Gas Buddy has predicted fuel prices in the U.S. will average around $2.56 per gallon over the holidays, but most drivers in South Carolina can expect to pay more than a quarter less.
The average price statewide, which was $2.29 as of Monday, is almost unchanged from Thanksgiving last year when the average price was $2.28. The Myrtle Beach area had the lowest average price in the state Monday at around $2.20 a gallon, and Hilton Head had the highest at $2.35.
The average price in the Charleston area was the same as the statewide average and unchanged from Thanksgiving last year.
Based on annual price data, Gas Buddy has found that the best day to fill up before a Thanksgiving trip is Monday. The most expensive day for fuel prices during the holiday week is typically Friday.
Though less than 10 percent of South Carolina travelers will fly this holiday, that market showed faster growth compared to last year, according to AAA.
Around 53,300 Palmetto State travelers are expected to fly, an increase of about 4.6 percent. Nationwide, the increase in air travelers has been projected to be between about 3.7 and 4.6 percent.
An analysis from the travel booking site Hopper found that, of the state's major airports, Charleston International had the lowest average fares around Thanksgiving this year.
Roundtrip domestic flights from Charleston cost an average of $242 for Thanksgiving trips, down more than 7 percent from 2018.
For those flying out of Charleston for the holiday, the airport has advised arriving extra early, about 2½ hours before the departure time, to find parking and get to the terminal. Due to construction for a new parking deck, many of the most convenient spots won't be available.
The airport has designated an overflow holiday parking lot where free shuttles will ferry travelers to the terminal every five minutes.
Airport officials estimate that from Wednesday through next Monday, about 100,000 travelers will pass through the terminal. Like most U.S. terminals, Thanksgiving is the airport's busiest time of year.
Those who fly will also see the worst holiday congestion on Sunday. The trade organization Airlines for America has predicted that, nationwide, a single-day record will be broken that day with 3.1 million passengers passing through U.S. terminals.
Google Maps also identified where people are navigating during the holiday by analyzing uniquely popular searches on the day before, day of and day after Thanksgiving. For example, Google found a sharp increase in users looking for directions to ham shops around noon the day before Thanksgiving.
A jump in people navigating to tree farms happens around noon on Friday, and searches for outlet malls are most popular on the evening of Thanksgiving and early Friday afternoon.